Rob Howley isn’t being considered by Warren Gatland for the 2021 Lions tour for fear that the ex-Wales assistant’s gambling controversy would become a distraction on the three-Test trip to South Africa. Howley, who assisted Gatland on the 2013 and 2017 tours, was sent home in disgrace from Japan prior to the start of the 2019 World Cup after he was accused of placing bets on matches.

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It was December when an investigation concluded the former scrum-half had placed 363 bets on games over a four-year period, an issue triggered by the alcoholism and eventual death of his sister. 

He was banned from working in rugby for 18 months, the last nine months suspended, and has now taken his first steps back in the game, securing a three-year deal with Canada that encompasses the 2023 World Cup and will also see him work as a consultant for the Toronto Arrows for the 2021 Major League Rugby season.

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Lions boss Warren Gatland guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass interview show

With a major job on his hands in the North American country, Gatland, who name-checked Gregor Townsend as a likely 2021 assistant along with Andy Farrell, feels it is best to allow Howley get on with his rehabilitation in the game away from the prying eyes accompanying those who work on the Lions tour. 

“We were great mates and I have a huge amount of respect for him as a coach,” said Gatland when asked about where his former Wales assistant stood in relation to the 2021 Lions tour. “I’m actually delighted for him that he has been appointed with Canada. He has got a role with Toronto as well.

“Look, the last thing you want is people bringing up the past and taking away from what your preparation is, what your focus is for a Lions tour. That makes it a little difficult because that is the last thing that I want or someone like Rob would want to happen from that perspective.

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“It is great for him he is back in the game. He gets a chance to get out of the UK, to re-establish himself with Canada until the next World Cup. He’s an outstanding coach. He understands the mistakes that have been made and hopefully he does really well.”

Gatland was assisted on the 2017 Lions by Graham Rowntree, Steve Borthwick, Farrell, Howley and Neil Jenkins, and he had the same staff in 2013 except for Borthwick. Looking ahead to 2021, he said he wants some level of continuity but is also open to having some fresh voices onboard. 

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